Poker Tournament Strategy

Adjust Your Strategies When Playing on a Freezeout Poker Tournament

Freezeout tournaments are a popular format of poker tournaments where players start with a set amount of chips. Once they lose all their chips, they are eliminated. Unlike rebuy tournaments, players cannot buy additional chips if they lose all their starting chips. 

This means every player has only one chance to win the poker tournament. Freezeout tournaments can be particularly challenging as players must adjust their strategies to survive and progress to the tournament’s later stages.

In this context, it is important to understand the dynamics of freezeout tournaments and develop effective strategies to succeed. We will discuss tips and strategies to help you adjust your game plan in a freezeout poker tournament.

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Playing the Game

If you are used to playing re-entry live or online poker tournaments, you should be aware that in freezeouts, you only have one chance to win, and once you’re out, it’s over. Players in multi-table tournaments (MTTs) often play aggressively to accumulate chips quickly from the beginning. However, this can be risky in freezeouts, as losing all your chips will result in elimination. 

Experienced freezeout players tend to play conservatively in the early stages, focusing on preserving their chips rather than accumulating them. While trying to increase your stack, it is also essential to avoid unnecessary risks that could lead to losing chips. It is sometimes better to wait for a better opportunity to arise later in the tournament rather than taking a risky move with a marginal hand. For instance, if an aggressive player is making large bets, it may be tempting to call with a decent hand, but it may be better to wait for a better opportunity when you have a stronger hand and a greater chance of winning.

Tournament Life Matters

From a strategic perspective, you should prioritize preserving your tournament life when faced with close calls. This does not mean that you should play too conservatively or avoid taking risks altogether. Instead, you should weigh each decision’s risks and benefits with your tournament life in mind. 

For instance, you may be tempted to call with a strong hand, as pocket queens and an opponent goes all in. However, if you know you have a skill advantage over the other players in the tournament, you may consider folding and preserving your tournament life instead of risking it all on a single hand.

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When in Middle Stages

How you handle the middle stages of a freezeout poker tournament will depend on how the early stages went for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have a big stack, you can start pressuring the players around you who are most vulnerable. However, you should avoid taking on fellow big stacks, as they can bust you or severely damage your stack. Instead, focus on the medium stacks, which appear to be cruising comfortably, particularly as the money bubble approaches.

If you’re one of the short stacks, you’ll need to look for opportunities to improve your situation. Opening-shoving up to 15 big blind stacks, especially as a late position blind steal attempt, maybe a viable option. However, avoid shoving the biggest stacks, as they’re more likely to call since they can afford to absorb the loss. Fellow short stacks may also call more lightly, as they’re also looking for a double-up. Thus, medium stacks are more likely to feel the brunt of your aggression.

Medium stacks are trickier to play because you’re only one decent hand away from being a big stack, falling to a short stack, or even getting busted. For now, it’s best to target fellow medium stacks as they’re in the same risky position as you.

Aggressive Play For Short Stack

You should be more open to taking marginal opportunities as they arise. Instead of playing it safe until the money bubble, you should increase your aggression. When you have a short stack of around 10 big blinds, the quality of your cards becomes less important than the opportunities available.

To increase your chances of winning the tournament, you should take risks by frequently stealing and re-stealing, even though it is a high-risk strategy. Many poker players tend to play tight at this stage, so you should take advantage of the opportunity to win their chips.

In most situations, when your stack is 10bb or less, the best pre-flop poker tournament strategy is to shove all in if you want to enter the pot.

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Master Independent Chip Modeling (ICM)

To excel in the later stages of a tournament, master the concept of Independent Chip Modeling (ICM), which involves assigning a value to tournament chips. This requires some off-table work to understand how ICM affects your decision-making during the game. In simple terms, tournament play aims to increase your stack size and maximize your monetary profits. This means that a decision that increases your chip stack on average may be a losing play in terms of money, as ICM calculations can demonstrate.

Simplify the Approach

The freezeout is the shortest compared to other tournament formats because it is the most straightforward and does not require complex tactics. All you need to do is play with strong hands, keep an eye on your stack, and understand how the game works. By doing this, you’ll be able to stay alive and have a chance to win the tournament.

Cons of Freezeout

Freezeout tournaments offer a prize pool based on the number of expected participants, with a guaranteed amount determined by the poker site. If the tournament exceeds the expected number of entrants, the prize pool may increase, but each player is only allowed one entry.

In contrast, tournaments with rebuys and add-ons often surpass the guarantee due to players entering multiple times.

Freezeout tournaments have higher variance because players only have one chance to make a deep run. If a player loses a crucial hand in a freezeout tournament, they are out of the game, regardless of how weak their opponents are. This may require them to play more tournaments to achieve a positive return on investment.

In contrast, players in rebuy tournaments can re-enter after losing a significant hand, increasing their chances of making a deep run. This means they may require fewer tournaments to achieve a positive return on investment.


Playing in a freezeout tournament requires players to adjust their strategies to fit the unique aspects of the format. While the simplicity of the structure may make it easier for beginners to understand, it also presents challenges such as a smaller prize pool and higher variance. 

Players can make informed decisions and maximize their profits by mastering the ICM concept and paying attention to their stack size. Additionally, adapting to the changing flow of the tournament and playing solid poker hands is crucial for success. With these strategies in mind, players can confidently navigate the freezeout format.

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